"Kill the Indian, Save the Man"

July 3, 2009 — Leave a comment

How’s that for a motto?

Not far from where I live is what used to be the Carlisle Indian Boarding School, which used that same motto—the ‘Indian School’ now houses the US Army War College (I think their motto is something like, “Kill the Enlisted Man, Save the Colonel”).  The above ‘mission statement’ gives a pretty clear image of the view most people had toward native Americans: if we could just ‘un-Indianize’ them, there would be hope for them to enjoy life as “civilized” (read “educated, white) persons.  Their differences invited ridicule and caricature—think of how natives have often been portrayed, especially in the books and movies of not-so-long-ago—all because of ignorance on the part of those who felt they knew best.

In 1744, a group of well-meaning people from Virginia and Maryland offered to instill “proper culture and education” into the lives of natives by covering the costs for a group of young men from various nations to attend the College of William and Mary.  What follows is the response of Conassatego of the Iroquois League, replying on behalf of the Six Nations (as found on p. 239 of American Indian Tribal Governments, Sharon O’Brien, 1989):

We know that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in these Colleges, and the maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you.  We are convinced, therefore, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily.

But you who are so wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same yours.  We have some experience of it.  Several of our Young People were formerly brought up at the colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counselors; they were totally good for nothing.

We are, however, not the less obliged by your kind Offer, tho’ we decline accepting it; and to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take care of their Education, instruct them of all we know, and make Men of them.

Ouch.

Put that in your paradigm pipe and shift it.

Jeremiah Gomez

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I am on a journey...enjoying the adventure of learning to live a life that isn't my own.

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